From Labor Unrest to Social Movement

  • Jake Lin
Part of the Politics and Development of Contemporary China book series (PDCC)


This chapter takes a theoretical look at the rise and fall of labor activism. Chinese labor studies literature focuses on the role of authoritarian state and its impact on the decline of labor, particularly by its censoring the use of class rhetoric. However, cases from developed and developing countries demonstrate that workers can use collective resistance to significantly lift labor’s political status, despite repressive state policy. That raises a puzzle—why has the contemporary Chinese labor activism failed to engender transformative social and political change? This chapter introduces some social movement theories highlighting the main drivers behind successful social movements. It suggests that using a subjective and psychic approach helps crack the code of complex processes of social movement formation. It argues that a state of cognitive liberation is necessary to break through the ‘psychic trap’ that hinders individual labor activism from developing into social movements with a much bigger impact.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jake Lin
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Global StudiesTokyo University of Foreign StudiesTokyoJapan

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